Thursday, June 13, 2013

Diversity: is it a good or bad? Starategies for managing diverse teams

"We value diversity". Companies often say it during their recruiting events or on their websites. Some say since I am international and woman so I will add value on their companies' diversity. Diverse teams obvious look good. They seem to bring interesting ideas more than non diverse teams. However people oftentimes want to make a team with whom look and think similar to themselves. Even I, huge believer of the value of diversity, sometimes want to team up with someone from similar cultural or professional background. Is it just human tendency to associate and bond with similar others? Should they pursue more diversity in their network and their teams? More importantly, what is diversity exactly and can it make the company achieve the unfair advantage regarding strategic stand point?

What Factors Affecting Making Diverse Team?


Even though the world is flatting, and every organization does have international business and needs to bring more diversity in that aspect, there are factors working against diversity. As mentioned above, the tendency people will be attracted to groups of similar others can be one of the factors. Groups will help new members who are similar to stay and overly dissimilar members will leave or be forced out. It is called  Attraction-Selection-Attrition. Social categorization can also happen in a team. People categorize themselves and others into salient and hierarchically ranked groups. Self-esteem motives can make categorization a precursor to stereotyping and ingroup-outgroup biases.

The Pros and Cons of Diversity
The positive effects of diversity are know as information-processing advantages and better solution to complex problems.. For instance, diverse teams are more likely to have broader and less redundant pool of resources, networks, information, skills, and experiences. They also may have task-relevant conflict which ironically will improve critical analysis and innovative, “out of the box” thinking. . For example, there are empirical evidences that ore innovative banks were run by more educationally and functionally diverse top management teams. Teams with diverse political orientations also generate higher quality, more pragmatic solutions to social and political problems

However, a diverse team may bring higher absenteeism and turnover. It also may have reduced efficiency. For example, functionally diverse teams are known that it is less efficient in developing technical innovations. Some suspect it may have worrse financial performance, particularly in the short term, since functionally diverse management teams do a poorer job of meeting profitability targets.

Thus, it seems there more cons on diversity if the task is about exploitation and implementation because priorities are efficiency, convergent thinking, and execution. On the other hand, if the task is more exploration and innovation type, diversity will play a key role in experimentation, divergent thinking, and problem solving.

Strategies to Manage Diverse Team
If you already lead a diverse team, you may need strategies to manage the diverse team because those differences can serious obstacles. For example, some members' lack of fluency in the team's dominant language can lead others to underestimate their competence. When such obstacle arise, the team can not make the most of its advantages.

To get the team moving again, avoid intervening directly. Though sometimes necessary, your involvement can prevent team members from solving problems themselves and learning from that process. Instead, choose one of these indirect interventions

  1. Adaptation: Working with or around differenceIf members are willing to acknowledge differences and figure out how to live with them, adaptation is the best strategy. For example, an American engineer group working on a team that included Israelis was shocked by their in-your-face, argumentative style. Once he noticed they confronted each other not just him - and still worked together - he realized confrontations weren't personal attacks and accepted their style.
  2. Structural Intervention: Reorganizing to reduce frictionWhen the team has obvious subgroups or members cling to negative stereotypes of one another, it should be reorganized to avoid the unwanted consequences. For example, an international research team's leader realized that when he led meetings, members shut down because they felt intimidated by his executive status. After he hired a consultant to run future meeting, members participated more.
  3. Managerial Intervention: Making final decision without team involvement
    It is rarely used, for instance a new team needs guidance in establishing productive norms. When a soft development team's dominant language was English, but some members spoke with strong accents. The manager explained they'd been chose for their task expertise, not fluency in English. And she directed them to tell customers "I realized I have an accent. If you don't understand what I am saying, just stop me and ask questions."
  4. Exit: Voluntary or involuntary removal of a team memberEmotions are running high, and too much face has been loss so much due to it, the exit strategy should be considered at the last.


In sum, when possible, encourage team members to adapt by acknowledging cultural gaps and working around them. If your team isn't able to open about their differences, consider structural intervention like reassigning members to reduce interpersonal friction. As a last resort, use an exit strategy like removing a member from the team.

Sources:
Anita Woolley, Team Diversity, Managing Organization, Tepper School of Business
Brett et all, Managing Multicultural Teams, Havard Business Review




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